Neurosurgeon: The head of a very sick person should be transplanted

Neurosurgeon: The head of a very sick person should be transplanted

The message makes you think of “Frankenstein”: An Italian surgeon thinks that it will be possible in two years to transplant a human head onto a foreign body. Colleagues are skeptical.

First head transplant in two years
An Italian researcher is currently causing a sensation in the scientific world. Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero describes how he could perform a head transplant on humans in just two years. The announcement is reminiscent of the famous film classic "Frankenstein", in which a researcher creates a new being from several body parts. This may not have to be “science fiction” if you believe the Italian neuroscientist from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group.

Medical doctor wants to present the transplant procedure at the conference
Sergio Canavero had already announced his plan for the first head transplant in 2013. According to an article by the specialist magazine "New Scientist", the project is now so advanced that it could "be carried out as early as 2017. The procedure is said to extend the life of people who suffer from degeneration of their muscles and nerves or who have advanced cancer. "In June, the doctor plans to showcase the details of the spectacular transplant at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland."

The patient could move three weeks after the transplant
Canavero explained in advance how the transplant would work in general. Accordingly, the head of the recipient and the donor body would have to be cooled at the beginning in order to extend the time in which the cells of the two can live without oxygen. According to the information, "the tissue around the neck would be removed and the main vessels connected with tiny tubes". Then the spinal cord would be cut off and the recipient's head would be “placed” on the donor body. Using the chemical polyethylene glycol, or PEG for short, the ends of the spinal cord would be fused together. PEG is said to cross-link the fat in the cell membranes of the head and body. According to Canavero, the patient may be able to move and feel after waking from an approximately three-week artificial coma.

Up to now, head transplants only in animals
The transplantation of a human head was and is so far considered impossible for most scientists. Experiments with head transplants have so far only been carried out with animals. For example, the Russian physician Vladimir Demikhov created a two-headed dog in the 1950s. And Professor Robert White of the Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted a monkey head in 1970. However, the experimental animals generally lived only a few days after the interventions. In addition, White did not connect the nerve strands, so that the rhesus monkeys could breathe but could not move.

Colleagues are skeptical
When it was reported in the 1990s that heads from terminally ill to healthy bodies of brain dead should be transplanted in the USA in the future, Professor Detlef Linke, senior physician at the Neurosurgical University Clinic Bonn, explained in 1997 in an interview with the "Ärzte Zeitung": " Such an operation would be risky, but technically not so problematic. ”However, many scientists still see it differently today. Specialist colleagues from Canavero were extremely skeptical. Harry Goldsmith, a surgeon from the University of California at Davis recently told New Scientist magazine, "I don't think this will ever work." Not only the procedure itself causes too many problems, but also the mental ones and psychological difficulties in the patient would not be predictable. However, Canavero is convinced of his idea. "If people in the United States or Europe don't want to do it, it doesn't mean that it can't be done anywhere else," said the surgeon. (ad)

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